The Bengal Tiger

The Panthera tigris tigris, more commonly known as the Bengal Tiger, is the most populous in the world, despite the fact that there are fewer than 2 500 individuals. These tigers are found in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal; both in the wild and in wildlife centres (such as zoos, parks and conservation areas).

India is home to the largest proportion of these magnificent animals, boasting more than 1 500 Bengal Tigers. Bhutan has the smallest population, with only about 70 tigers roaming this landscape. Because of its beauty as well as the cultural and religious significance attached to the Bengal Tiger, it has been made the national animal of India and Bangladesh

Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)

Physical Characteristics

Although the Bengal Tiger has typical colouring and patterns (light orange or yellow fur with bold brown or black stripes), it is set apart by its being particularly large, second only to the Siberian Tiger.

Male Bengal Tigers reach an average weight of 221 kilograms (just under 490 pounds), and females usually weigh around 140 kilograms, which is equivalent to 308 pounds.

The male will reach about 2.7 to 3.1 metres in length (about 115 inches) and females grow to approximately 2.4 to 2.6 metres (or 102 inches). This measurement includes the tail, which is around one metre long.

The Bengal Tiger is also known for its mutations, producing the gorgeous White Tigers that are kept in captivity around the world. These are white with grey or brown stripes. However, a far less commonly known mutation of the Bengal is the Black Tiger.

As its name implies, this tiger’s fur is a very dark charcoal or black in colour with light yellow or white stripes. Both of these adaptations have produced stunning specimens, but these are not subspecies in their own right; only mutations of the original Bengal Tiger.

The Bengal Tiger can be found in the deciduous forests (both wet and dry) of India; the hot, humid forests of Bhutan and the sal forests and grasslands of the Himalayas. As with other subspecies of tigers, Bengals prefer areas in which they are better concealed and camouflaged, always ready to take prospective prey by surprise.

The Bengal Tiger is a carnivore and will dine on whatever meat is available in the area in which they live. Common prey includes various buck species, wild boars, porcupines, hares and birds. If and when necessary, the Bengal will also attack and kill other hunters; such as bears, crocodiles and even fellow tigers. The Bengal Tiger stalks its prey, pounces on it and kills it swiftly, when caught successfully. It will then drag its catch into a secluded spot to enjoy it alone and in relative safety. Because it may only make such a kill once every few days, the tiger will eat as much as possible at one ‘sitting’. Tigers always start eating their prey at the rump.

Family Structure and Reproduction
After mating has occurred (usually in spring and winter), a gestation period of about 105 days (or approximately 3.5 months) occurs. A typical litter comprises of up to four cubs, all protected with a dense, woolly coat. Their eyes and ears begin to open after a few days, and their milk teeth peek out from their otherwise gummy mouths at about two weeks of age. When the permanent teeth replace the baby ones (at around five months old), the Bengal cubs are taught how to hunt for their food. It is at this same time that their coat begins to take on a more adult appearance. However, it is only at about two years of age that the cubs will begin to separate from their mother and venture out into a solitary existence. The female cubs may stay within a relatively close proximity to their mothers for some time (although not necessarily interacting with her), while the males tend to break completely free immediately. Tigers do not live or hunt in packs. The Bengal Tiger reaches sexual maturity at around four years old.

The Bengal Tiger is currently an endangered species. Hunted for its pelt, body and organs, it continues to face the ever-present threat of extinction. The skin and various parts of its body are believed to have religious and health benefits to the humans that use and / or consume them. Although trade has been banned, this has not diminished the enormous demand for such products. Poaching has become a lucrative profession in many areas. Most of the products are sold in China.

Tigers are also killed by farmers trying to protect their livestock and as a result of diminished natural habitat, due to the growing areas occupied by humans.

There are a number of official organisations in place, particularly in India, to protect the remaining Bengal Tiger population and apprehend poachers.